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The network of epithelial–mesenchymal transition: potential new targets for tumor resistance

Abstract

Purpose

In multiple cell metazoans, the ability of polarized epithelial cells to convert to motile mesenchymal cells in order to relocate to another location is governed by a unique process termed epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). While being an essential process of cellular plasticity for normal tissue and organ developments, EMT is found to be involved in an array of malignant phenotypes of tumor cells including proliferation and invasion, angiogenesis, stemness of cancer cells and resistance to chemo-radiotherapy. Although EMT is being extensively studied and demonstrated to play a key role in tumor metastasis and in sustaining tumor hallmarks, there is a lack of clear picture of the overall EMT signaling network, wavering the potential clinical trials targeting EMT.

Methods

In this review, we highlight the potential key therapeutic targets of EMT linked with tumor aggressiveness, hypoxia, angiogenesis and cancer stem cells, emphasizing on an emerging EMT-associated NF-κB/HER2/STAT3 pathway in radioresistance of breast cancer stem cells.

Results

Further definition of cancer stem cell repopulation due to EMT-controlled tumor microenvironment will help to understand how tumors exploit the EMT mechanisms for their survival and expansion advantages.

Conclusions

The knowledge of EMT will offer more effective targets in clinical trials to treat therapy-resistant metastatic lesions.

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Acknowledgments

We apologize for not being able to cite many important articles due to space restrictions. We thank Dr. Colleen Sweeney at University of California Davis and Dr. Max Wicha at University of Michigan for constructive discussion on breast cancer research. DN is supported by Chulabhorn Foundation of Thailand. The research projects in the laboratory of the authors have been supported by NIH NCI Grants CA133402 and CA152313, as well as a Grant from the US Department of Energy Office of Science DE-SC0001271 to JL.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Jian Jian Li.

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Nantajit, D., Lin, D. & Li, J.J. The network of epithelial–mesenchymal transition: potential new targets for tumor resistance. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol 141, 1697–1713 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00432-014-1840-y

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Keywords

  • Epithelial–mesenchymal transition
  • Metastasis
  • Cancer stem cell
  • Tumor aggressiveness
  • Therapeutic resistance